Algae are already widely used in cosmetics, skin care products and a number of other industries as thickeners. But now, certain types of algae – such as spirulina – are treated like trendy ingredients that can supposedly bring great benefits (including the possibility of an algae-derived sunscreen!).
But before we got too upset, we talked to find out if science actually confirms these allegations.
So what kind of seaweed is it?
Algae, which can be as large as kelp or tiny enough to be microscopic, are ocean-borne chlorophyll-containing organisms. However, it is estimated that there are more than 70,000 species of algae – and that without the many "extracts" that can be termed algae on the front of a skin care bottle. So maybe we have to be a little more precise.
"It's a really big category we're talking about, and it's hard to pin down what [skin-care companies] is targeting," Dr. Evan Rieder, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology of Ronald O. Perelman at NYU Langone Health, reports SELF. Because of this, the skin care industry has so far focused on some of the most common types of algae.
In practice, only a few species of algae have been tested for their potential use in cosmetic products anyway. This includes the three main classes of macroalgae (aka algae) that are brown (kelp), green and red. It also contains several types of microalgae, such as spirulina, a type of blue-green algae, and chlorella, a green alga. Each of them has their own skin care claims, ranging from possible antioxidant benefits, to moisturizing and anti-aging properties, to UV protection.
"It's one of the hottest ingredients there," Dr. Binh Ngo, Professor of Dermatology (Clinical Education) at the Keck School of Medicine of the USC, told SELF. "There are many claims that it can do this and that, but you have to look at the evidence."
Is there any evidence that these may be beneficial to the skin?
Although there are some studies In view of the potential skin benefits of algae in humans, our research is generally limited to laboratory and animal experiments, says Dr. Rieder. There are, however, some interesting things to discover.
For example, in a study published in International Journal of Biological Macromolecules in 2013, researchers investigated the potential for compounds from which five different species of algae were captured and stored for moisture, apparently could be useful for skin care . They examined how much water the algae – which included three different types of green algae, a type of red algae and a type of brown algae – would absorb in the dry state and how well it would last over time. Their results showed that the brown algae extract, which had the lowest molecular weight, did the best. In fact, the results were even better than hyaluronic acid a common skin care substance known for its strong moisturizing effect.
However, this study was conducted in the lab – not on the actual human skin. So we do not know if these extracts would do the same for your face.
Next comes Spirulina, a blue-green algae species (technically a species of cyanobacteria and therefore no )] true algae) that already have a sizeable wellness hype . For a study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Biopharmaceutics in 2015, the researchers had 40 female volunteers apply a gel cream on their faces twice a day for 28 days. They were divided into two age groups (18-39 and 40-60) and two treatment groups (one half received a gel cream that actually contained the spirulina extract while the other received a control cream).
At 28 days During the study period, the researchers found that those who received the spirulina cream had more water retention in the outer skin layer than those who received the control cream. However, the effect was statistically significant only in the older age group. If this type of algae has a moisturizing effect, those with more mature skin may see the greatest benefit.
There is also evidence that some types of algae can be used to control hyperpigmentation through a particular mechanism: An important step in the production of melanin in the body depends on tyrosinase, an enzyme. Animal studies have shown that compounds extracted from brown algae inhibit tyrosinase. But here, too, human studies are lacking.
Algae are also interesting because some species have their own natural methods of protecting themselves from UV radiation which obviously could benefit humans ]. In particular, research has shown that cyanobacteria and other types of algae can produce compounds known as mycosporin-like amino acids (MAAs) and can absorb ultraviolet rays similar to how chemical sunscreen ingredients act , However, that does not mean that you can replace your usual SPF with an algae cream.
And what about these antioxidant claims? Well, some types of algae contain compounds such as carotenoids and vitamin E which are known to be antioxidants, meaning that they can handle free radicals that otherwise cause damage in high quantities would become the body. However, whether or not a cosmetic cream actually contains useful amounts of these compounds is generally not clear.
Being able to protect against UV rays and act as an antioxidant, "theoretically can protect collagen and protect the skin from aging." Rieder says that's pretty promising. However, there are no studies that clearly show that algae can perform these tasks – and certainly no better than the FDA-approved options we already have. Of course, algae could be a useful ingredient for skincare, but we do not currently have the evidence to really prove it.
So, should you really use seaweed skin care products?
The alleged benefits of algae to the skin are almost unlimited. If you're trying out a product that you like and can use it easily, it's no problem to continue using it. But none of the claims about algae for the skin has been fully reviewed with large-scale clinical trials. And for every possible benefit of algae we probably already have something on the market that we know more about. Considering that some of these products can be exceptionally expensive – here's $ 300 (19459004) a tub of La Mer with the cult favorite cream for no special reason – you might want to think twice before you spend your money on these as well-proven options, Dr. Ngo. "This is one of the areas where we need more study," she says, "and whether the price is actually justified or not [is still up for debate]."
Even people with sensitive skin should be sure to use algae products with care as there are reports that cause irritation learn a lot about. If you're interested in trying, you should know that not all algae are the same – and you may be luckier if you get the results you want with something we know more about. However, if you have any questions about how to find the right products for your skin, contact a dermatologist with specialist training.